spending

forever-21-blue-chiffon-dress-200I wouldn’t mind being 21 again, to see what it’s like through wiser eyes and maybe correct some of my youthful screwups. But I don’t think I could take it for more than a few days. On the other hand, I could spend a week in Forever 21.

During the boom, when some fashionable friends started pushing the teen store as a source of cheap, trendy duds, I popped my head into New York’s Union Square location. It was loud and so packed with adolescents I didn’t even check out the merchandise. “I like to shop with grownups,” I said.

But when the recession rolled my clothing budget back to where it was when I was 16, I took another look at Forever 21—and discovered its discount charms. The shop is a great source of sexy summer dresses, shorts and accessories…

dreamstime_dinner_partyYou may have lost your job recently, but that’s no excuse to lose your manners, too. Of course, with so many friends and family members struggling with unemployment and financial woes, you may not be sure exactly what proper etiquette even entails anymore.

After all, who’s supposed to pick up the check at dinner now that all of your i-banker friends aren’t feeling so flush? And when is the right time to start networking at a party? Today’s recession is quickly changing all the rules, and bringing up questions that no Miss Manners book in the library is ready to answer.

Luckily, a bevy of “etiquette experts” have been doling out recession-friendly advice over the past few weeks and putting together some general guidelines…

computer-monitor-150For years, I covered tech. But it’s still not the same as knowing how to shop smartly for my next laptop (I can’t wean myself off of the pricier Macs) or figure out what to do about my ancient TV that pulled broadcasts out of the air via rabbit ears.

CNET has a nice package on shopping for tech on a budget that I’m finding useful and maybe you will, too. Their pieces don’t just list what to buy, but help you to understand the products and trends around them. The point is to shop smarter so that you spend your money wisely on products that will serve all your needs, and will last. Some highlights:

LaptopsTry a Netbook. If your computing needs are low, or even basic (web browsing, office doc work, and not too much need for heavy-duty graphics or HD video), Netbooks offer a great package for very little money. Mainly equipped with Intel Atom processors and running Windows XP, they’re not so great a multitasking, but they’ll do the work that most computers handled five years ago with ease…

broken-piggy-bank-money-200When I got laid off last December and had to curb my spending, there were some things that were hard to give up. I bitched about downgrading from a fancy gym to a utilitarian one. (Read Frugal Fitness for other tips.) I tried to convince my hairstylist to come to my house so I wouldn’t have to forego his services. I was sad about not sending my laundry out—and not just because I don’t like doing the wash. (Read I Miss My Dry Cleaner.)

But there were plenty of upsides to my new frugality. It was cozier to invite friends in for drinks than go out to a bar. It was fun and creative to craft a necklace out of a vintage brooch instead of dashing out to buy something new for a formal party. Though I hate negotiating, I convinced the cable and cell phone companies to give me discounts. I’ve always been financially responsible, but I felt especially virtuous in my new restraint and resourcefulness.

The downturn seemed to have a similar impact on society as a whole. It put the brakes on rampant consumerism. In record time, we have become less materialistic, less wasteful, less brand-obsessed. The savings rate has risen from zero to nearly 7 percent, the highest it’s been since the early 1990s. I’ve been hoping that the recession would be short, but have a lasting effect on our spending habits.

A little more than a week ago, I accepted a three-month consulting gig. It inspired a mix of emotions: I was relieved to have a steady flow of income for a while. I wondered what it would be like to work in an office again. I worried about doing a good job.

But mostly what I felt was an urge to spend, spend, spend…

Woman with Shopping BagsThe economy may be looking up as of late, but that’s not necessarily good news for everyone. Or for shoppers, at least. That’s because many of the “recession discounts” and super sales that have been going on at stores across the country will most likely become a thing of the past once stocks go up and consumers return to their usual ways.

So what goods and services should you start buying now before the bargains dry up? Forbes has a rundown:

Real Estate: The combination of falling interest rates, discounted foreclosure properties, government incentives, and bottoming home prices is making this a great time to buy. Not that this news is especially shocking to you, we’re assuming …

reading-magazines-illustration-250Are you a papervore who is still reading newspapers and magazines? Good—we are too. And while searching for frugal ways to renew subscriptions that are expiring in the middle of a recession, we found two new ways to get our favorite publications.

Magazine resellers often give better deals than the publications themselves. Even lower prices can be had on eBay. Yes, eBay. We renewed New York Magazine for $15, versus the “bargain” $40 offered in a mailing. We spotted BusinessWeek for just $10. Hitch is, the selection is pretty random.

Frequent flyer programs
are another good bet. For 500 Delta Skymiles points, we got a year’s worth of Fast Company. (Time, Sports Illustrated, W and People en Espanol were among the other titles.) United Airlines’ program offers the Wall Street Journal for just 3,300 miles. If you calculate the value of miles at one cent each, that means you can get a full year of WSJ for $33—which is basically amazing. The regular price right now is $441.

But don’t get mad at us if there are restrictions, like offers for new subscribers only, or delivery only to the continental U.S. As always, check the fine print before you buy.

beach-towels-hat-suit-150

As if getting in shape for summer weren’t enough pressure—now you have to figure out how do you pull together warm-weather looks that are fashionable, flattering, and affordable. If last year’s bikini is too stretched out or your swim trunks are faded beyond recognition, consider these 10 resources for finding a perfect beach wardrobe while still staying financially afloat.

Old Navy: The ultimate resource for beach items that are fresh, bright and, most of all, cheap. Their men’s swim trunks in solids and prints are only $15. Mix and match separates and one-piece swimsuits for women are all under $20; kids’ swimwear is a steal for less than $10 an item. And who can beat flip-flops for five bucks?

Swimoutlet.com: Prefer doing laps in the pool to lounging the beach? This site has more athletic-style swimsuits…

money-cash-and-pill-bottle-medicine-150The cost of medical care can be astonishing in the best of times. In a down economy you feel the pain even more—especially as policies change. For example, doctors may require you to pay up-front for services, then collect from your insurance company. Or, they may charge you for the remainder of their fees not fully covered by insurance. Then there are the health insurance companies, which are more prone to question, delay or deny insurance coverage for treatments.

You don’t have to feel helpless in the face of these challenges. Armed with some knowledge and the willingness to argue for your rights, you can keep those costs from killing you.

Be proactive: Before having a procedure, get preauthorization or clearance from the insurance company. This way you know what to expect in terms of coverage and payment responsibility.

Know your rights: Say you see an in-network surgeon at an in-network hospital, but have an out-of-network anesthesiologist. Often insurance companies will reject or limit coverage, claiming that you did not use an in-network provider…

question-mark-chart-150Says who: Paul Ashworth, a senior economist at Capital Economics

“A few months ago, the U.S. was in the throes of the most severe recession since the 1930s,” said Paul Ashworth, a senior economist at Capital Economics. “We’ve had some improvement, but . . . we’re still nowhere near a meaningful recovery or even a slight recovery.” (Washington Post)

Why it might be false: The evidence that the economy is improving can be convincing: a manufacturing report Monday beat expectations and indicated some growth; pending home sales rose 6.7 percent in April; and the stock market hit its highest point Monday for all of 2009. And it doesn’t hurt that the good weather seems to bring with it all kinds of hope and promise…

beach-hut-tent-150This Memorial Day kicked off a different kind of summer for many of us. The warm weather and slower pace are as welcome than ever; the big change is how much less we have to spend. We know what we’ll be keeping a lid on, but were curious about the broader trends across the country. Are summer camps closing? Are barbecues fizzling out? Some of the answers surprised us.

Down: Vactation rentals
Inventory is up and prices are down in resort areas from the Hamptons to New Hampshire’s Lake Winnepesaukee to North Carolina